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Clause 29

Clause 29

In an orgy of mutual back slapping the cross-party political deal struck over Leveson press reforms was announced to a breathless world at the weekend.

Debate in the Commons, expected to be bitterly fought with very close votes, became a walk in the park. The terrifying thing was the way in which Lib Dem deputy leader, Simon Hughes, led off his contribution with the words: “I rise to thank the Secretary of State for introducing this group of new clauses and amendments, and to support them. They are in the name not just of the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State, the Home Secretary and the Leader of the Opposition, but the Deputy Prime Minister.” Cross party agreement on contentious issues is extremely rare and nearly always fatal. Just think of the disastrous Dangerous Dogs Act and the Iraq war.

The hastily drafted legislation bore all the hallmarks of bleary eyed middle-of-the- night confusion, hardly the considered and thoughtful process it required. The vehicle chosen to carry this load was the Crime and Courts bill, probably just because it was in an advanced stage of progress through the House. It now goes back to the Lords next week for consideration of the amendments. This bill is about the National Crime Agency, proceedings and powers of courts and tribunals, border control, drugs and driving. Now it’s also about press regulation.

We come now to the self-interest bit. Are blog posts like Upper Case Legal Journal caught by this legislation? On Monday morning the ‘Guardian’ carried the reassuring news that “Downing Street sought to reassure small-scale web-based news providers and blogs that they would not be required to co-operate with the new regulatory system. No 10 said bloggers, tweeters, news aggregators and social networking sites such as Facebook or Twitter, as well as special interest titles, would be excluded.”

But the reassurance was short lived. On Monday night the Commons overwhelmingly agreed to add clause 29 to the Crime and Courts bill. This clause seeks to clarify the meaning of ‘relevant publisher’ in the context of press regulation:
“ (1)… “Relevant publisher” means a person who, in the course of a business (whether or not carried on with a view to profit), publishes news-related material—(a) which is written by different authors, and (b) which is to any extent subject to editorial control.

(2) News-related material is “subject to editorial control” if there is a person (whether or not the publisher of the material) who has editorial or equivalent responsibility for—(a) the content of the material, (b) how the material is to be presented, and (c) the decision to publish it.”

No exceptions here. Kirsty Hughes, CEO of Index on Censorship, said: “This will undoubtedly have a chilling effect on everyday people’s web use.”

As Tory MP Mark Reckless said in debate in the Commons: “It is also extraordinarily unclear how the charter will apply in the blogosphere and to the web…I hope that my blog will be exempt and I will not have to answer to the Home Secretary for any transgressions I make within that sphere.” Amen to that.

This post was written by:

- who has written 462 posts on Upper Case – The Anya Legal Journal.

Mike Gribbin is a retired Civil Servant with wide experience, including the drafting and implementation of Parliamentary legislation and regulations. He is the editor of “Criminal Offences Handbook”, a uniquely comprehensive guide to more than one thousand ways to fall foul of UK criminal law. He is Editor of the Upper Case Legal Journal and has been writing blog posts for the past eight years.

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